At the annual Summer Defense University meeting of senior military officers and officials, industry leaders and parliamentarians, hosted this year by the French navy at the Naval School in Brest, there was much talk of Franco-British cooperation and the word “Libya” popped up in almost every round-table meeting and conversation.
But not everyone had the same interpretation of the lessons learned even if all were agreed that the air exclusion operation over Libya had created a sea change in the way the French and British armed forces work together.
Sir Peter Ricketts, the British ambassador in Paris (and, it must be pointed out, former British ambassador to NATO), speaking in flawless French, pointed out that without the help of NATO's experience in command and control and the “help and support” of the United States, France and the UK could not have carried out this operation. One possible conclusion, he suggested, was that the European Union should procure all the capacities necessary to undertake such an operation autonomously.
But he immediately provided the counter argument, saying that this would “need billions of euros” and pointed out that in the current economic situation the monies could not be found.
Admitting that nobody in the room would be surprised, Ricketts reiterated the well-known and traditional UK posture that “we strongly doubt that it is really necessary to add to [European Union] capacities”, adding that Libya had proved that it was possible for the NATO structures to be used for an operation led by Europeans.
What did lead to debates over lunch was his statement that current Franco-British cooperation was based on the St Malo agreement of 1998 which he described as being fundamental for both countries to project armed forces abroad.
But defense analysts argued that St Malo had been a total failure and therefore the November 2010 Lancaster House treaty was everything St Malo was not. “It's simple,” I heard, “if it was in the St Malo Treaty then the opposite will be done in the Lancaster House framework.”